Sport Golf

Monday 23 July 2018

Lowry bids to be the toast at the 'greatest show on grass'

 

Golfer Shane Lowry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Golfer Shane Lowry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Shane Lowry scored a big win when he turned up for the "Greatest Show on Grass" and handed out a bag of cans to the crowd.

But rather than kudos from giving away Guinness at the iconic 16th hole in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he'll be looking to take away a huge haul of world ranking and FedEx Cup points.

The Clara man got his season off to a slow start in San Diego last week when he lurched home in 42 in his second round and shot 78 to miss the cut by four shots.

He'll have high hopes of a better finish in Phoenix, where he was 16th last year and tied sixth on his debut two years ago, memorably making birdie on his first, never-wracking visit to the cauldron that is the 20,000-capacity, par-three 16th.

"I was just praying I was going to hit the green," Lowry said. "My ball managed to just stay on the green and I rolled it in from 30 feet."

He'll be hoping his winter rust is will gone in time for today's opening round alongside Brendan Steele and KJ Choi. And he'll also be praying for a better putting performance than he produced in San Diego, or last year in the desert, where he was third for strokes gained from tee to green and 70th for putting.

That said, his form with the putter has improved immeasurably since last year's 16th-place finish to the extent that was ranked first inside 10 feet and 10th overall for putting on the PGA Tour last season.

But with his exemption for winning the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational set to run out at the end of this year and with a Ryder Cup on the horizon, a big early-season result would ease the pressure as he bids to finish inside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup. It's not that there's anywhere to hide at TPC Scottsdale, where a record 655,434 fans turned up last year.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama will be bidding for a hat-trick of wins but with more than 200,000 attending on Saturday alone - 20,000-plus pack the skyboxes at the 163-yard 16th - the majority of the fans as interested in whooping it up as watching the golf.

According to reports this week, there were 118 arrests last year, mostly for alcohol-related incidents as well as many more arrests for driving under the influence on the way home.

Fans hoping to get a flavour of the 16th hole atmosphere can enjoy a live 360 and VR experience for all four rounds on Twitter (twitter.com/PGATOUR), as well as through Samsung Gear VR via the "PGA TOUR VR Live" app.

Lowry is the only Irish player in the field as Pádraig Harrington prepares for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Genesis Open and the Honda Classic, where Seamus Power will also return to action. But there will be no shortage of firepower on show with world No 1 Dustin Johnson guaranteed to remain at the top of the rankings on Sunday after Spain's Jon Rahm failed to dethrone him by winning at Torrey Pines.

Jordan Spieth, three-time Phoenix winner Phil Mickelson, crowd favourite Rickie Fowler, and reigning US PGA champion Justin Thomas headline a quality field.

The will also be a morbid curiosity to see what kind of reaction JB Holmes receives on the 16th after he was roundly criticised for waiting four minutes and ten seconds to hit his approach shot to the 72nd hole in gusting winds last Sunday.

After watching Holmes lay up, veteran Mark Calcavecchia took to Twitter and called on Holmes to be fined, "or better yet given two shots".

But Thomas defended Holmes' actions last night, saying: "I have JB's back all day in that situation. (The criticism) bothered me."

Darren Clarke is the only Irish player in action in the Maybank Championship at steamy Saujana Country Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Maybank Championship,

Live, Sky Sports Golf, 7.30am

Phoenix Open,

Live, Sky Sports Golf, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport